Nuclear energy

Kyle H's Webpage 2001

Table of contents


Nuclear Energy-Introduction

What is It

The History of Nuclear Energy

Fission and Fusion

How Does A Nuclear Reactor Work?

Advantages and Disadvantages





Nuclear Energy

How does nuclear energy work? This essay will teach all about nuclear energy. I will explain the difference between nuclear fission and fusion. I will also explain how a nuclear power plant works. To help you understand this topi c better Iwill outline the development of nuclear energy. I will discuss the benefits of nuclear energy and where it is used. I will also analyze the problems with nuclear energy. I hope that this introduction has made you at least a bit interested in my project. As you can see there is lots to know about nuclear energy. I picked this topic because I'm really interested in it and I hope other people will be too.


What is it?

Nuclear energy is a major form of energy made from splitting an atom with a proton. One law of the universe is thatenergy and matter can't be created or destroyed but can change form. This means that no one can create or destroy energybecause another one of the laws is the amount of energy in the universe cannot change. However, matter can be changedinto energy. The famous scientist Albert Einstein created the mathematical equation E=mc2 to explain this. This equationsays E (energy) = m (mass) times c2 (speed of light squared). Einstein used this famous equation to discover atomic energy and also create atomic bombs.


The History of Nuclear Energy in Canada

The date was December 2, 1942. Underneath the bleachers of a football field at the University of Chicago, Italian NobelPrize winner Enrico Fermi with his team of scientists were working on a concealed project. They were attempting to build the world's first nuclear reactor. The nuclear reactor was 400 tons of graphite surrounding 60 tons of uranium. Canadian physicist Walter Zinn was in charge of ZIP. ZIP was the lever that could shutdown the experiment if anything went wrong. As Zinn turned on the machine, Fermi measured the rise in power and in the late afternoon their goal was reached. "The power of the reactor rose to one watt-less than one-hundredth the power of an average light bulb but nevertheless proof that man had controlled the release of energy from the atom"(Ontario Hydro, 1989 p.4). They sent a coded message to Washington that said, "The Italian navigator has landed in the New World" This meant that nuclear energy had become a reality. "Operational condition reached" were the words dispatched to Ottawa on September 5, 1945 by Dr. Lew Kowarski. The efforts of Canada's scientific team were a success and Canada's and the world's first nuclear reactor was built. On December 12, 1952 an operator's error caused a power surge when the plant was shut down. By the time the authorities could bring the plant under control serious damage had been done to the plant. This day was known as Black Friday. No one was hurt but radioactive particles flew throughout the building and before the reactor was repaired some cleaning up was at hand. Redesigning and rebuilding the plant took 14 months and the groundwork was laid for the CANDU reactor, one of the safest in the world.


Fission and Fusion

Nuclear fission works by splitting an unstable uranium nucleus making nuclear energy. This produces heat which boils water and creates steam. This steam turns turbines to create energy. The problem is that after the burning is done the leftover material stays radioactive for thousands of years. "Plutonium-239, aby-product of uranium, remains radioactive for 24,110 years" (Ergon Energy, 1999). Nuclear fusion is supposed to be a very clean form of energy. It works by combining two nuclei to make a bigger nucleus. The picture to the right shows this. Fusion gives off energy to boil water and make steam to turn turbines. Unfortunately scientists have not yet been able to use nuclear fusion to make electricity because there are three things required. First, you need an extremely high temperature. Second, you need to have 2 small nuclei that will fuse together and give off energy. Third, you need the ability to capture the energy given off. As you know nuclear fission works on uranium but nuclear fusion uses deuterium and tritium, both isotopes of hydrogen which is an unlimited source of energy. Therefore nuclear fusion could possibly last forever.


How does a nuclear reactor work?

A nuclear power plant works like this. First you put in a uranium bundle of about eight rods. Second, you fire a proton at one of the uranium nuclei to split it. This causes a chain reaction splitting all of the other nuclei. The reaction is slowed down by using heavy water. "Chemically, heavy water is called deuterium oxide. Thus the Canadian reactor is named CANDU, for CANada Deuterium Uranium" (Canadian Nuclear Association, 1991). Heavy water, which is also used as a coolant in the nuclear reaction, is heated and travels to heat exchangers to produce steam from ordinary water. The steam turns turbines, which makes electricity. This is called nuclear fission.


Advantages and Disadvantages

Nuclear energy has some good and bad qualities. One of its best qualities is that it gives off lots of energy from little amounts of uranium. One major disadvantage is that it makes variable amounts of radioactive waste. This waste is causing a big problem for the world for its storage and irradiating. Another advantage to this form of energy is that it doesn't give off greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are gases like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and flyash, which have made the greenhouse affect or global warming. The problem with using this power though is that there is always a chance of a meltdown. A meltdown is when the uranium and nuclear waste are heated to such a level that they melt creating a substance that can supposedly melt through steel, concrete and iron. This is the reason a lot of people don't like nuclear energy but the chance of a meltdown is about a million to one. Nuclear energy is cheap too and it helps provide jobs to people. Perhaps the biggest advantage to nuclear energy is the discoveries they have made in nuclear medicine. Such as cancer therapy, CAT scan, MRI machines and the use of irradiation of food.



Most people think that nuclear energy is a very polluting, very dangerous kind of energy and is the worst kind of power but it isn't that bad. I think that overall nuclear energy is a good energy to use. The chance of a meltdown is very slim and it is a very efficient source of electricity. It is one of the best sources of energy we have today and I think it is a very good source of energy. If we could get nuclear fusion to work it would be even better though. I hope you are now very interested in nuclear energy and understand that it's not so big and bad. As you can see there is lot's to know and even on this presentation I didn't tell you everything about it. I hoped you liked my project and now know something you didn't know before. So to conclude this project I want to say please don't talk badly about nuclear fission and fusion.




Quoted in Text

Ontario Hydro, Fifty Years of Fission, 1989, Canada

Ergon Energy, Nuclear power- How does it work?,

Canadian Nuclear Association, Nuclear facts; Seeking to generate a better understanding 1991, Canada

Other Sources Information

Darlington Nuclear Power Plant

How Science Works, Judith Hann, Reader's Digest Association, 1991

Eyewitness Energy, Jack Challoner, Dorling Kindersley Limited, London 1993

Encyclopedia of knowledge, Grolier Inc, Danburg Connecticut, 1992





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